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Collection Becq de Fouquières, Paris (vers 1883); sa vente, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 8 mai 1925, lot 6; d'où acquis par
Hector Brame, Paris; d'où probablement acquis par
Vicomte de Beuret; sa vente, galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 11 mai 1931; d'où acquis par
la baronne de Forest.
Galerie Schmit, Paris, 1974.
Galerie Alain Tarica, Paris; d'où acquis en 1984 par
Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé.
PREMIERES IMPRESSIONS: LES OEUVRES DE THEODORE GERICAULT DE LA COLLECTION YVES SAINT LAURENT ET PIERRE BERGE
Que l'on me pardonne cette insolence, mais le fait qu'il n'y ait pas l'ombre d'un cheval de Géricault dans la collection de MM. Bergé - Saint Laurent est un merveilleux paradoxe. Délibérément, les deux collectionneurs se sont intéressés à un tout autre aspect de la production d'un peintre mort à 32 ans, connu dans le monde entier pour son grand Radeau de la Méduse, l'un des chefs-d'oeuvre du musée du Louvre.
Des cinq tableaux de Théodore Géricault présentés dans ce catalogue, deux sont de superbes et puissantes académies d'hommes peintes vers 1810-1812, celles-ci qui faisaient dire à son maître Guérin, quelque peu déconcerté par la brosse fougueuse de son jeune élève : 'Vos académies ressemblent à la nature, comme une boîte à violon ressemble à un violon'. Mots piquants qui sous-entendaient que Géricault et son interprétation de l'anatomie masculine - l'éloge du muscle - violaient délibérément les règles classiques de la bienséance.
Les trois autres tableaux de la collection Bergé - Saint Laurent sont des portraits. Et quels portraits !
Celui du jeune adolescent vu de profil, peint vers 1815-1817, attire tout d'abord notre regard tant est forte sa concentration vers un ailleurs qui nous reste inaccessible. Le spectateur peut alors contempler les fabuleuses tonalités de ce portrait, la blancheur d'un grand col, la blondeur des cheveux se découpant sur un ciel rougeoyant, le rouge sensuel d'une bouche entr'ouverte. Tous ces éléments contribuent à faire de ce fascinant visage le prototype même du portrait romantique.
Celui de la petite Elisabeth Dedreux, posée telle une fleur dans la campagne romaine, relève assurément du même registre émotionnel. Vient encore s'y ajouter la tendresse particulière du peintre pour cet univers enfantin. La petite fille, campée dans une petite robe blanche, incarne merveilleusement la fragilité de cet âge tendre qui s'oppose à la dureté de l'univers minéral qui l'entoure.
Du double portrait des enfants Dedreux (Elise et Alfred, le futur peintre du cheval), on a beaucoup insisté, et à juste titre, sur sa fascinante étrangeté. De fait, Géricault a volontairement accentué l'intériorité de ses deux modèles afin qu'ils nous apparaissent songeurs, méditatifs si ce n'est mélancoliques. Représentés dans une nature vierge de toute construction humaine, solidaires (car reliés par leurs deux bras), ces deux enfants presque jumeaux (à la coiffure également semblable) semblent faire face à la folie du monde des adultes qui les attend.
Par rapport au tableau préparatoire, la petite Elisabeth a perdu toute sa fragilité et s'affiche désormais telle une Lolita. Elle est vêtue d'une extraordinaire petite robe blanche qu'un pli central transforme en une étrange cuirasse. Prête à l'insoumission, elle tient dans sa main droite deux petites fleurs jaunes qui viennent néanmoins nous rappeler la fragilité, la brièveté et la pure poésie du monde de l'enfance.
Docteur en Histoire de l'art
Ancien pensionnaire la Villa Médicis (Rome)
et au Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles)
Membre de l'Union française des experts.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: THE WORKS OF THEODORE GERICAULT IN THE COLLECTION OF YVES SAINT LAURENT AND PIERRE BERGE
Without meaning to sound impertinent, it is wonderfully ironic that the Bergé-Saint Laurent collection does not feature a single one of Géricault's horses. The two collectors consciously decided to focus on a different aspect of this painter, who died at the age of 32, and is known the world over for his monumental Raft of the Medusa, one of the Louvre's great masterpieces.
Of this catalogue's five paintings by Théodore Géricault, two are superb, powerful male academic nudes, painted circa 1810-1812. Géricault's master, Pierre Guérin, somewhat disconcerted by his young pupil's impetuous brushstrokes, remarked in reaction to these paintings, 'Your academies resemble nature the way a violin case resembles a violin'. This sharp assessment suggested that Géricault and his interpretation of male anatomy - a tribute to muscular form - deliberately violated the classical rules of propriety.
The three other paintings in the Bergé-Saint Laurent collection are portraits - and stand-out portraits at that.
The one of an adolescent boy in profile, painted circa 1815-1817, immediately attracts attention through its intense focus on a distant, unspecified point beyond the viewer's reach. This leaves us to contemplate the portrait's fabulous tones, the whiteness of the boy's large collar, his blond hair which stands out against the backdrop of a fiery sky, the sensuous red of the parted lips, all of which helps make his fascinating countenance the very prototype of the romantic portrait.
The painting of young Elisabeth Dedreux, posed like a flower in the Roman countryside, strikes the same emotional chord, further enhanced by the painter's particular affection for that special universe inhabited by children. The young girl, portrayed in a short white dress, wonderfully embodies the fragility of her tender age, which contrasts with the barren mineral environment around her.
Much has rightly been said about the fascinating yet strange nature of the double portrait of the Dedreux children, Elisabeth and Alfred, the latter of whom would become a famous equestrian painter. Indeed, Géricault expressly emphasised his two models' introspective nature to make them appear as meditative, even melancholic, dreamers. Depicted in a natural environment, free of any human construct united by their embrace, these near-twins, who even wear their hair in a similar style, seem to confront the madness of the adult world that awaits them.
Compared to her single portrait, little Elisabeth has lost all her fragility and could be compared to a young Lolita. She is dressed in a remarkable short white dress, strangely transformed by its central pleat into an armoured breast-plate. She strikes a defiant pose and holds two diminutive yellow flowers in her right hand, a small reminder of the fragility, brevity and sheer poetry of childhood.
Ph.D in Art History
Formerly of the Villa Medicis (Roma)
and the Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles)
Member of the Union française des experts.
L. Dimier, Histoire de la peinture française au XIXe siècle (1793 - 1903), Paris, 1914, p. 57.
A. Flamant, 'Un peintre sportsman et dandy : Alfred de Dreux', in La Renaissance de l'Art Français, Avril 1921, p. 158 (illustré).
'Revue des ventes de mai', in Le Figaro Artistique, 4 juin 1925, p. 539.
'Le carnet d'un curieux', in La Renaissance de l'Art Français, juillet 1925, p. 331.
'A propos de Alfred de Dreux', in Beaux Arts, 15 juin 1929, p. 24. L. Eitner, 'The sale of Géricault's studio in 1824', in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, février 1959, p. 124, note 7.
L. Eitner, Géricault, an album of drawings in the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1960, p. 32.
F.H. Lem, 'Géricault portraitiste', in L'Arte, juin/juillet 1963, p. 87, no. 13bis, pl. V.
Catalogue d'exposition, Géricault, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, 1971, p. 60, no. 23.
P. Grunchec, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Géricault, 1978, p. 105, no. 116 (illustré).
Catalogue d'exposition, Géricault, Villa Médicis, Rome, 1979, p. 226.
D.F. Mosby, 'Notes on two Portraits of Alfred Dedreux by Géricault', in Arts Magazine, vol. LVIII, no. 1, septembre 1983, pp. 84-85 (illustré).
Catalogue d'exposition, Théodore Géricault, Kamakura, Kyoto, Fukuoka, 1987-1988, p. 13, fig. 2.
R. Michel, in catalogue d'exposition, Géricault, Grand Palais, Paris, 1991, p. 110 (illustré).
B. Chenique, ibid., p. 279.
S. Laveissière, ibid., p. 363.
G. Bazin, Théodore Géricault, vol. V, Paris, 1992, pp. 83, 84, 238, no. 1721 (illustré).
H. Zerner, 'Le portrait, plus ou moins', in R. Michel (ed.), Géricault - conférences et colloques du Louvre, Paris, 1996, pp. 329, 382-383 (illustré).
B. Chenique, in catalogue d'exposition Géricault, La folie d'un monde, Lyon, 2006, pp. 112 - 115, illustré en couverture, no. 48 (illustré).
J. Coignard, 'Chez Pierre Bergé et Yves Saint Laurent', in Connaissance des Arts, no. 634, janvier 2006, p. 49 (illustré).
'Les chefs d'oeuvre de la collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé', in Connaissance des Arts, janvier 2006, supplément, pp. 23-24 (illustré).
L'Oeil, no. 580, mai 2006, pp.5, 61, 73 (illustré).
S. Allard, in Portraits publics, portraits privés, 1770-1830, Paris, 2006, p. 171.
C. Clark, in Citizens and Kings, Londres, 2007, pp. 208-209, 325, no. 109 (illustré).
Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Portraits du siècle (1783-1883), 1883, no. 105.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, L'Art et la vie romantique, 1923, no. 210.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Géricault, 1924, no. 249.
Paris, Bernheim Jeune, Gros, Géricault, Delacroix, 1954, no. 31. Paris, Galerie Schmit, Portraits français XIXe et XXe, 15 mai - 15 juin 1974, no. 25.
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Géricault, la folie d'un monde, 21 avril - 31 juillet 2006, cat. no. 48.
Londres, Royal Academy of Arts, Citizens and Kings, Portraits in the Age of Revolution 1760-1830, 3 février - 20 avril 2007, no. 109.
Post Lot Text
PORTRAIT OF ALFRED AND ELISABETH DEDREUX, BY THEODORE GERICAULT
OIL ON CANVAS
Painted circa 1818
GERICAULT'S CHILD PORTRAITS
Although Théodore Géricault's extraordinary gifts as both a figure painter and acute observer of his own time should have translated easily into portraiture, the genre occupies only a small, albeit highly unusual, part of the artist's oeuvre.
Géricault was superbly able to render the full gamut of human emotion. From his detached but psychologically piercing portraits of the insane, his pathos-filled images of the English working classes to his poignant rendering of his friend General Letellier on his death-bed, Géricault strove towards a great energy of expression in his work, which in all the above examples is in harmony with its subject matter.
Most of Géricault's few portraits depict the children of close friends. The two portraits of Pierre-Anne Dedreux's children Alfred and Elizabeth, the Portrait of an Adolescent Boy, are all part of a series which included another single portrait of Alfred Dedreux (lot 83, fig. 1), and portraits of Olivier Bro and Louise Vernet. One would therefore expect them to reveal a spontaneity and intimacy in keeping with their subject. Instead his children are detached and monumental, presented with a haunting intensity which jars with the innocence of their young age.
That Géricault was striving to create a dramatic effect far removed from any kind of naturalism is clear when comparing the finished double portrait of the Dedreux children with its preparatory drawing (lot 83, fig. 1). The latter, spontaneously executed in soft lines, shows Elizabeth looking admiringly upwards towards her brother who peers smilingly out of the corner of his eyes towards the viewer; the scene is relaxed, the setting and gender roles traditionally defined.
In the finished painting, Géricault presents two statuesque, androgynous beings who stare out towards the viewer. Elizabeth now stands above her elder brother, whose tousled hair and trouser suit have been replaced with curls and a smock which render him almost indistinguishable from his sister. The chiaroscuro, used to model the children's features, gives to each a deep set, haunting and cold expression which is in no way alleviated by the nominal affection conveyed by each figure wrapping an arm around the other. Even the device of the flower in Elizabeth's hand reverses the typical conventions of portraiture: instead of enlivening the composition, the plant droops heavily, adding to a powerful sense of mass.
As Régis Michel writes: 'He only executed a handful of portraits - mostly of children (...). There is something disturbing about these unusual creatures - in the sense of 'Unheimlichkeit' dear to Freud, or of a worrying strangeness born of bad dreams. These massive bodies, brooding heads, solemn poses and grave expressions form a monumental canon which one would hardly associate with the liveness of childhood' (exh. cat., Géricault, 1991, op. cit., p. 108).
In essence, Géricault's children convey a sense of 'otherness'; inscrutable but profoundly self-conscious, they occupy a world impenetrable to adults, in which they assert their difference by refusing to submit to the norms traditionally ascribed to them. There is, therefore, a profoundly psychological element to these portraits which makes them strikingly modern. This sense of alienation is further heightened by the abstracting the children from any recognizably domestic setting: the landscape in all three paintings represented here is barren and foreboding - almost funereal - and covered by a low sky of the most intensely vivid blue which recalls the most fantastical compositions of Goya.
The series of child portraits were executed around 1817-18, at a critical junction in his career turning point in Géricault's career. As Lorenz Eitner writes:
'(...) He [Géricault] made an abrupt change in his work, not only abandoning his favourite modern subject-matter but also radically reforming his style. With sudden determination, he turned to the only alternative at hand, the Neo-classical grand style (...). By inborn talent a colourist and realist, he deliberately thwarted his more spontaneous tendencies, replaced colour with sharp light-dark contrasts, painterly effect with contour design and, in his treatment of the human figure, limited himself to a vocabulary of rough stereotypes (...) entirely indifferent to natural appearance. His 'antique manner', had little to do with conventional classicism, though he used it to express Classical themes. His very personal intent was to gain greater expressive force: more important than the increase in control was the increase in dramatic intensity that his effort at discipline brought him. Unlike his earlier, more casual realism, this new, highly artificial manner lent itself to resonant statements. Romantic in its intensity, borrowed from the tradition of Michelangelo rather than that of David, it expanded his range to include fantasies of terror, cruelty and lust.' (L. Eitner, "Géricault", Grove Dictionary of Art).
These child portraits were private works, in which Gericault could test his grand style before applying it to public paintings on a more monumental scale. The dissonance between the grand manner expressed in this intensely Romantic, almost Goyaesque idiom, and the domestic subject matter is what gives these portraits their haunting power.
The neo-classical roots of Géricault's experimentation are nowhere more obvious than in his Head of an adolescent boy (lot 85), which combines the androgyny of the Dedreux portraits with a pure Grecian profile which has the 'disquieting vividness of tinted sculpture'. (L. Eitner, Géricault, His Life and Work, London, 1982, p. 94.). And while his portrait of Elizabeth Dedreux shows her in the modish trappings of a young girl, her pose is strongly Academic, and more typical of Géricault's renderings of muscular male nudes.
Géricault's relationship to the Dedreux family is particularly noteworthy. He enjoyed a close friendship with Elizabeth and Alfred's uncle, Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy. Himself a painter, Dedreux-Dorcy, frequently took his young nephew to his friend's studio, where Alfred was profoundly influenced by Géricault's choice of subject matter, particularly horses. By the time the double portrait here represented was executed, Alfred, who was aged about eight, would already have known Géricault well - despite the extraordinary psychological distance which appears to separate him from the world of adults.
We are grateful to Bruno Chenique for his revision in the cataloguing of the works by Géricault in this sale.